Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Dew Point Packing it In Post 2

When Ben lived in Rock Springs, Wyoming, one of his favored activities was backpacking in the Wind River Mountain Range and one of the early outings Ben and I took after we met, before we moved to Montana, was backpacking. Again, in the Wind Rivers.

When we did move to Montana, we were looking forward to backpacking in the mountains surrounding us, but for some strange reason – well, our intense work schedule, to be honest, we didn’t go backpacking for ten years after we built our studio. To be honest, the only reason we went on that tenth year was because Sue moved into the log cabin just up creek from us. She instantly became one of our best all-time friends and when she found out we hadn’t been backpacking in Montana, she decided it was time to put an end to that nonsense and get us into the Crazy Mountains.

Sue has a huge supply of modern backpacking equipment. Ben and I had the old fashioned aluminum frame backpacks and everything else we owned for camping was the heavy stuff people usually only car camp with. Besides having the equipment, Sue is also incredibly adept at organizing for a backpack trip.

That next summer, at the end of July in 2004, Sue’s daughter Sonja came to Montana and the four of us headed into the Crazies. Once we got into the Crazies, Ben and I got one of the greatest shocks of our lives.

The Crazy Mountains are a rather small range of mountains. They certainly are stunning to watch on a daily basis. The snow packs deep during the winter and during the summer the green of the grasses contrasted by the dark pines is dazzling. Sunsets and sunrises startle the senses with vivid colors most people rarely experience. But neither Ben nor I had any idea what that small range entailed once you hiked past the foothills. Within the mountain range are raging crystal creeks, glaciers, cirques, azure and turquoise lakes, and spectacular  wildlife and wildflowers. And when you’re backpacking across the range, engulfed by the spectacular sight and sounds, the mountains feel like they extend into eternity.

We backpacked an average of about eight miles a day, though we thought we were only going six. At the end of the day we were exhausted, but you couldn’t have scraped the smiles off our faces. On the third day we come out on the Big Timber side and as soon as we hit civilization, we all wanted to cross back over. We all had to get back to our lives, but after what we had been through, the artificiality of our “real” world was terribly unappealing. Sue bribed us to rejoin civilization with milkshakes at a small shop in Big Timber, so we didn’t defect and retreat back into the mountain.

We’ve been backpacking several times since that first trip, but both Ben and I hold a special place in our memories for that first trip.

All of the following pictures are compliments of Sue, since she was the only one who took a camera on that trip. Sue takes great photos, so it was really difficult to pick just a few to post. I scanned a lot more in, too, so next post or so I’ll put up some more.



Ben and I riding in the back of the pickup to the trailhead.



On the trail.



Me, crossing the creek.



Ben, me and Sonja at the end of the first day.



Me and Ben glorying in the view.



Sonja, Ben and me having breakfast in the warm morning sun.



Sonja on the trail.



Sue and Sonja.



Ben and me






Ben and Kilimanjaro



Sonja washing up the breakfast dishes.



Sue’s self portrait.



The glory of the mountain.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Packing it In Post 1 Sheep Camp


Last September Melody and Mark invited us to go along on Mel’s sheep hunt near Trout Peak in the Absaroka Mountains northwest of Cody. It was one of the most incredible backcountry trips I have ever been on.

In more ways than one.

Mark and Mel pretty much had everything ready by the time Ben and I got to Greybull. The next morning we finished loading the gear and then loaded the horses into the horse trailer and drove to the trail head. The weather wasn’t the greatest, it rained and snowed a lot, so I didn’t take any pictures on the way in, but the ride was spectacular. It was a two-day horseback ride into the hunting area, but on the second morning the horses had gone out for an all-night picnic and it was raining fairly heavily when they finally sauntered back, so we stayed at our layover camp one more night and finished packing in the next day.

Early the morning hunting season started, Mel and Mark hiked around the ridge to the peak straight above our camp, while Ben and I stayed in camp trying to keep track of where they were going. Just a few hours later we heard a gunshot and we searched the mountains above the camp with binoculars, but it was snowing hard enough that we couldn’t see anything of them. Ben left with a man from a neighboring camp, some people Mark and Mel knew from Laramie, with two horses and a mule. I stayed in camp in case Mel and Mark came down a different direction than they had gone up.

Some time later the snow quit and I was able to spot them with their sheep straight above camp. Had the sheep fallen down a few more feet from where Mel shot him, he would have tumbled over a slight rock ledge and rolled right into camp. I watched through the binoculars as Ben and our camp neighbor found them and helped them haul the carcass to where the mule and horses were.

I waited excitedly until Mark and Ben got back to camp and I couldn’t wait to tell them I had seen the whole thing, but before I could say anything, they told me that a grizzly sow and three two year old cubs were on the trail Mel would have to cross with the horses. My excitement turned to anxiety in a heartbeat. Mark saddled his horse, grabbed his rifle and headed back up.

Ben and I started looking for a pair of trees where we could hang a meat pole to keep the sheep up high enough that the grizzlies couldn’t get it. Meanwhile, Mel and our camp neighbor had spotted the grizzlies and knew they couldn’t get past them with the raw meat, so Mel scaled down the side of the mountain back to camp, but Mark had already left. She peeled off her bloody clothes so we could hang them up high as soon as we got a meat pole up, so we packed them in one of the pack saddles and hauled them across the creek.

Just about the time we found the perfect place to hang the pole, Ben shouted. “Steve! Bear spray!”

I turned in time to just see the rump of one of the cubs. It was easily as big as an adult black bear. Then Ben shouted, “Mel, make noise!”

Mel had heard Ben shout at me, so in remarkable time she was banging on a cooking pan with her pistol. Ben and I crossed the creek to where Mel was and we stood back-to-back in a triangle: Mel with her pan and pistol, Ben and I with our bear spray drawn and ready. While we stood there, Ben told us that he had spotted the bears because he had seen a motion out of the corner of his eye. He looked up just as the sow saw him. They both froze for a second, staring each other in the eye. Then she and the cubs took off.

That was actually the first time I had ever seen a grizzly in the wild and I can’t explain clearly enough how glad I was that it was just the tail end of a cub, not the golden eyes of a mama griz.

Late that night, after we admired Mel’s trophy ram and had hung the meat along with all the bloody clothes, we ate dinner listening to Mel’s hunting stories. Tired and elated, Ben and I were about to head to our tent when we heard a strange noise.

“They’re back,” Mark said.

The horses had fussed a bit, but we hadn’t really thought much about it, because it was barely a fuss at all. Mark went out with his rifle. A minute or so later we heard him fire off a few shots. He came back into the tent and we all hoped that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t long before we heard them back again.

Mark said, “Well, it looks like it’s going to be an all-nighter.”

We went out with headlamps, bear spray, Mark’s rifle and pans to beat on so we could build a fire beside the meat pole and one in our kitchen area just across the creek from the meat. On our way to the creek, we shined our lights into the woods and saw four sets of eyes gleaming back at us. Indulge me enough to let me say that was one of the creepiest, most unnerving experiences of my life.

Last summer, just a few weeks before we left for sheep camp, Ben and I read in the papers and heard on the radio about a sow grizzly and her three two year old cubs attacking a campground near Cooke City. The sow had actually pulled people out of their tents. She killed one man and did quite a bit of damage to a woman. So now you can guess what Ben and I were thinking about that night in sheep camp.

Mark and I took first watch that night, while Ben and Mel tried to sleep, then we traded off. But who could sleep?

The next morning was absolutely beautiful. Ben and I had been hoping for just such a day so we could hike around those mountains. But all four of us had already conceded that one all-nighter with four grizzlies was enough. We began the process of packing up our gear as soon as we had eaten a quick breakfast and were able to start back to our vehicles at about two o’clock that afternoon. It was eighteen miles back to the trail head, but none of us wanted to try to camp out in the wild again, so we rode all the way back in a single stretch. It got so dark when night fell that all I could see was the white backside of the packhorse Ben was leading. I kept thinking how glad I was that the horses could see enough to keep us on the trail. I was amazed when I thought they must have remembered where to turn off to get back to the truck and trailer. Then I found out it wasn’t the horses at all, Mark was actually able to see in the dark!

Mel and Mark slept in their truck; Ben and I slept in the back of our Subaru. We were all cramped and uncomfortable, but we slept like babies.

The next morning when we got up, Ben and I found bear tracks all over our car.


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Packing up to escape another night of the grizzlies.

I know how disappointed you are I didn’t get any pictures of the bears, but I was thinking about other things.


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The view from our camp. It was just a little to the left of this and a bit more into the woods that Ben and the sow locked eyes.

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Ben helping Mark pack the horses.


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Another view from camp, with horses as ready to leave as we were.


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The view as were packing out.


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It really was beautiful.


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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Muffins in the Meadow -- Post 2

What is fear other than a driving force? Our individual fears usually drive us in wrong directions, cause us to make irrational decisions, and keep us in tidy little roles where society can keep tabs on us. There is some good in that, when it keeps us from committing crimes or hurting people in other ways. But when it stifles our potential, it is not only bad for us as individuals, it is bad for our society as a whole. This is because what we have to offer is lost. Such a loss for society is small when viewed from an individual perspective, but when viewed from the greater perspective of the whole, the loss is astounding.
When Val Emmerson brought us our calves late this winter, we put them in a corral of portable panels across the creek in Roddy’s pasture. Maintaining them was quite a chore, since we had to bucket water and haul hay over the snow in a sled; so, after a few days we decided to let them out to roam the pasture so we could start moving them toward the water trough and then to the creek where we could feed them more easily.
They left the area of the little corral in a hurry and after a couple of days they hadn’t come back to eat or drink. One more day without food or water worried us enough that we decided to try to herd them back toward the corral, but as soon as they saw us approaching, they ran over the ridge toward the far corner of the pasture. We walked around the ridge, but when they saw us again, they ran back. Val had been around them a lot, so we thought they would get used to seeing us and calm down after a little while, but this chasing game went on for a few more attempts. Finally, when they were back in the far corner, we decided to split up and quietly sneak our way toward them. Ben headed around the ridge and I went over the top.
We didn’t want them to see us right away, thinking that if they didn’t see us approaching until we were closer, they would go between us and head toward the corral. I slowly crept over the ridge, trying to stay below the sagebrush so they wouldn’t see me. With stealth I made may way through the crunchy snow in silence, crested the hill and peeked between the sagebrush.
Ben was standing beside the fence about thirty feet from the corner, but the cows were not in sight. I looked toward the corral, but they weren’t in that direction. It seemed as if they had vanished.
“Where are they?” I hollered.
Ben pointed toward the corner of the pasture. I looked back at the empty corner.
Ben shouted, “They jumped over the fence!” (Actually, he used a more colorful word than “They”)
“They leaped over it like a pair of deer,” he yelled.
I searched the adjoining pasture and finally spotted them along the opposite fence line.
Now we had to strategize. Part of the fence in that next pasture had been taken out when the land was subdivided a few years ago. If they got across the creek, we would likely never see them again.
Ben devised a plan to cut a hole in the corner of the fence and set out some hay leading up to it. Then we hiked down to the creek to slowly pressure them along the fence to the cut corner. Everything was going along fine until they saw the big chunks of hay. They stopped and stared at the hay, saw us coming closer and then bolted around us back toward the opposite fence line. We headed diagonally toward the creekside corner, but then they started trotting toward the creek to get ahead of us. We stopped and walked back the opposite direction; they stopped, too. We knew if they crossed the creek they’d be gone, so we decided to try herding them one more time and followed the fence on the opposite side of the pasture from where the calves and hiked along he creek. As soon as we got too close for their comfort, they trotted up to that far corner and then made their way toward the cut corner, but as they drew near the chunks of hay, they started to go around the ridge. We worried them away from the creek and back to the cut corner.
This time it worked. We herded them in, repaired the fence and tossed all the hay in to them. So, at least they had some hay. We left them alone that night and the next morning they were hanging out in a low spot we had seen them in several times when the wind blew, so after they wandered back up the ridge, we carried some water to that low spot in the hay sled. Each day after that we hauled them water and hay. Gradually they got a little more used to us, so we slowly led them with hay and water in the sled back to the area beside the little corral.
Not long after the ice melted off the creek, they started drinking there and the grass was growing enough that they wouldn’t eat hay any longer. Then things going pretty well.
At least until one day one of our neighbors visited Roddy and left the gate open. Yep, the cows decided to take a vacation.
Fortunately, Ben saw one of our ranching neighbors at the mailboxes the same day we found out the calves had gone missing. He told Ben two red calves had joined his black herd.
A few days later he rounded them up and hauled them back home.
Now things seem to be going really well . . .

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Since I don’t have pictures of any of our meadow-muffin-makers, I’ll show you some pics of a hike we took last fall with our friend, Nancy. This little cabin is a fantasy spot for Ben and me. It’s just a little way from the trail head.

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One of our favorite peaks.

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The view looking back across the valley.

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This was where we stopped to have lunch.

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Nancy and her dog, Sarah. Ben and I took Nancy on a journey we took to find a small obscure lake. We hiked for miles and couldn’t find it, so we finally started back. After we had gone a few arduous miles back toward the trail head, we looked at the map again, from a new perspective and figured out Frazier lake was the mud puddle we had looked down into on our way up. We wore Nancy to the bone.

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Me and Ben.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Muffins in the Meadow -- Post 1

We humans seem to have a deep need to search for something greater than what we can possess. For some the search leads to accumulation of wealth; for others it is a search for spiritual enlightenment; and for still others, the search leads to foreign experiences. This list,of course, goes on and on, but rarely does anyone fully gain the sense that they have attained what they have been searching for.
To be successful, the quest to fulfill that need must first begin in a selfish manner to attain what makes us happy, but then the quest must turn to helping others. Only then can we gain a sense of fulfillment, of happiness, and of contentment.

Springtime in Montana varies from one year to the next, but more often than not, we describe it as the muddy season. We have three seasons around here: Dry, snow, and mud; though not always in that (or necessarily any other) order. Right now the creek is flooding (don’t worry, our studio is perfectly safe); the bluebirds are nesting; the early flowers are beginning to bloom; and the grass is turning green. This is no assurance that we’ll have summer, but we can sigh with relief that when it snows, it will melt off within a day or two for at least the next three or four months.
This last winter has been the most windy and dreary winter anyone I’ve heard from around here can recall; so, despite the mud, the flood, the wind and the snow-rain-snow, when the sun shines for fifteen minutes or so, we want to rip all our clothes off and run outside to bathe in the light.
A week ago last Saturday was one of those rare-this-year kind of mostly-sunny days. Ben and I were invited to a calf-branding by Val Emmerson. This was the first branding we’d been invited to since we’ve lived in Montana, so we were very excited to participate. The sun raised the temperature into the upper 50s, so we both thought we were going to pass out from the heat and the wind blew a lot, but it wasn’t strong enough to knock us down, so we hardly noticed. We had a great time. I was given the position of pushing the calves through the chute. Being at the back end of nervous calves, I was expecting to get a little smeared, but that was the most smeared I have ever gotten and I wasn’t really dressed for it.
Val invited us to stay for dinner afterwards. I didn’t have any other clothes to change into, but she said she didn’t mind. Her dog, however, gave me a mighty peculiar look after she sniffed me over.
Val ranches south of Springdale, a small town between Livingston and Big Timber. The area is fairly dry during the summer and doesn’t usually get deep snow during the winter. It’s truly beautiful country and terrific for ranching, so we always thoroughly enjoy visiting. Val was the rancher we bought our two calves from last winter. She runs red angus cows, which I love. They were larger calves than we usually buy, but she offered to deliver them, so we happily took her up on her offer and now that the creek is flowing free and the grass is growing, they’re pretty much on auto-pilot in Roddy’s pasture across the creek until next fall.
Ben and I have had cows almost every year since we’ve been here. We love having livestock to raise our own meat and over the years we’ve tried raising rabbits, ducks, chickens, and guineas.  We still have chickens for eggs, but we decided that a single cow was a whole lot easier to butcher than fifty or sixty small animals a year to sustain us. We do still consider having a few sheep or goats and maybe a pig now and then. Maybe.
We tried goats once before. The problem was that we didn’t have fences for goats and had to move a pen around every day to feed them. We’re not exceptionally lazy, but that extra chore every day did not nurture a deep love for raising goats.
Life on Muddy Creek has been an adventure. I was raised in the city. I’m perfectly at home now, after seventeen years, but the first few years were a learning experience. I couldn’t live in the city anymore. Many of our friends ask how we can stand living so far away from society. We wonder how anyone could live any other way.
Springtime in the Rockies: looking across the valley.
We went snow-shoeing a couple of weeks ago. The sun was shining that day. We didn’t rip our clothes off, but we had a good time.
A northward view of the mountains while we were snowshoeing in them.
Between the wind and a couple of sunny days, the garden dried out enough for Ben to till the garden. The water in the background is overflow from the creek.
Haste often makes waste, but around here, if you don’t make haste when the sun shines, you miss the window of opportunity.
The greenhouse attached to the apartment is full of seedlings anxiously waiting for summer.
The plants in the greenhouse are growing exceptionally fast this year despite the cool and cloudy weather outside.
On the bottom is our spring salad garden.
On the bottom here on the west side of the greenhouse is our winter spinach. We’ve been eating fresh spinach since early March.
Flooding in the meadow.
This is our picnic area. When we first built here, this area was filled with mostly dead willows. One of our first cats was killed down in this area by some wild animal we never identified, but that encouraged us to clean it out to see what we might be able to do with it.
Proof that winter is over: sagebrush buttercups. They’ve been blooming for a few weeks now.
Another wildflower. It’s not very showy, but it’s as reliable as meadow muffins (cow pies).
I thought this was the first shooting star of the season, so I snapped the picture and as I rose with a grin on my face, Ben asked me if I had found the shooting stars. I looked around and found dozens of them all over the north slope of the ridge we built the studio on.
Wile I was trying to take photos of the wildflowers, Ashes thought I should be scratching his ears instead.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mud Pies -- Post 2

When our expectations for life, for ourselves and our peers exceed our respective capabilities, we tend to grow bitter, disillusioned, and cynical. Then we learn not to trust ourselves or our associates,  and close ourselves off from reality and happiness. Once we drop our expectations we can open ourselves up again, then we can learn to trust and love. Without happiness, trust and love, we become emotionally ill and our lives stagnate. With happiness, trust and love, we are fulfilled, whole and healthy.

With the Bush wars in the early 2000s, the economy started to slow and then tip downward. With that we were forced to slow down in the studio, which was good for us to some degree until the economy crashed near the end of the Bush era.
Ben started landscaping for Ursula in 2006, to help supplement the loss of income from the studio. After the crash I joined the landscape crew. Despite the exhaustion and sore muscles, we both really love working outside in the sunshine. Summers are so short here in Montana that if you don’t get out into the summer weather, the winters seem so much longer. So now we have the best of both worlds: inside making pots during the winter, outside landscaping during the summer.

Below are some more pictures of some work we did in the past
You can enlarge the pics in this blog if you put your cursor on them and double click.








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Some sample puzzle tile boards

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We did a puzzle tile installation for our good friends Rob and Tom from the Black Hills of South Dakota
This is a panel on the back wall in their shower/bathtub

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Here is the sink and backsplash in their bathroom

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